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Mullvad VPN review: Our favorite ultra-private VPN gets even better

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Mullvad VPN review: Our favorite ultra-private VPN gets even better

Mullvad adds a few useful extras, as well as a big expansion of its network of servers.

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Mullvad

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Mullvad in brief:

  • P2P allowed: Yes
  • Business location: Sweden
  • Number of servers: 780
  • Number of country locations: 35 (38 for WireGuard)
  • Cost: €5 ($5.86 at this writing) billed monthly
  • VPN protocol: OpenVPN
  • Data encryption: AES-256-GCM
  • Data authentication: TLSv1.3 (TLS_CHACHA20_POLY1305_SHA256)
  • Handshake: 4096-bit RSA

For a long time Mullvad has been a solid VPN service that didn’t change a whole lot other than adding an improved app. It continues to use its improved VPN app that we saw roll out several years ago, but the company is also adding new features and dramatically expanding its network compared to what we saw last time around. 

Note: This review is part of our best VPNs roundup. Go there for details about competing products and how we tested them.

Despite the changes, Mullvad’s greatest strength is still that it prefers to know as little about you as possible, which is a huge win for anyone trying to stay as anonymous as possible online. The company doesn’t even want to retain your email address—whether a primary address or a “burner” one only for VPNs.

Instead, Mullvad issues each user an account number—current numbers are about 16-characters long. The company’s attitude seems to be that the less it knows about you, the better.

mullvadvpnconnected 2021 IDG

An active connection in Mullvad for Windows.

Mullvad’s app looks modern and clean, and very much like a Windows Store app. It starts with a non-interactive map in the primary section of the window to show which location you’re connected to, or your default location at the country level.

When connected, you’ll see a Switch location and Disconnect button at the bottom of the window. The top of the screen, meanwhile, shows a green banner with the Mullvad VPN logo indicating you’re connected.

Click the Disconnect button and Mullvad shows your true location, the top goes from green to red, and the buttons at the bottom are labeled as the last country you connected to and Secure my connection.

If you jump into the country listings, you can either select a country, select a specific location within the country if more than one is available, and drill down to individual servers. The app doesn’t show any specific metrics about each server such as ping times or load, but if there’s a red circle next to it that means it’s not available for use. Green, meanwhile, means it’s working.

The app is very easy to read and understand. It’s not a free moving window by default. Instead it’s a panel that’s permanently fixed to the bottom-right corner of the screen. There’s enough space that it doesn’t feel constrained sitting there. If you don’t like that, however, Mullvad allows you to undock the app and move it around like a normal window. To do so select the settings cog at the top right of the window and then go to Preferences > Unpin app from taskbar

Features and services

Mullvad traditionally hasn’t been big on extra features or services compared to other VPNs. It doesn’t promise to get past Netflix VPN restrictions (though sometimes it does), there aren’t any double-hop connections, or smart DNS; however, it has added a few extra features recently. Mullvad recently introduced DNS-based ad and tracker blocking inside the desktop app. These features aren’t activated by default. To turn them on you need to select Settings > Preferences > Block Ads and Preferences > Block trackers. If you’d like to read about how Mullvad implements ad blocking check out the blog post on the company’s site. The long and short of it is that the new DNS blocking doesn’t substantially change how its service is configured and therefore doesn’t affect Mullvad’s privacy promises. 

Mullvad’s also added split tunneling, which allows some apps to operate over the VPN, while others don’t. Split tunneling is a beta feature, but if you want to use it, go to Settings > Advanced > Split tunneling

mullvadpreferences 2021 IDG

Mullvad’s Preferences options.

There are a few other options you can find in the settings. Under Settings > Preferences there are options to auto-connect when Windows starts, or automatically connect when you open Mullvad. Both are off by default. Under this section you can also enable your PC’s sharing options even though you’re on a VPN. You can also opt to use a monochromatic tray icon if you have visual needs, as well as the option to start Mullvad minimized, and to sign up for Mullvad’s beta program.

Go to Settings > Advanced, and you can enable Mullvad’s IPv6 option, as well as manually choose between using OpenVPN or WireGuard. Mullvad was one of the earliest VPN services to implement WireGuard.

Another nice tool to use with the VPN is Mullvad’s connection check webpage. It lets you know if the app is working and currently connected to Mullvad. It also checks to see if you are leaking DNS requests, suffering from a WebRTC leak, or using a blacklisted IP address.

Mullvad has apps for Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android. 

Performance

Mullvad’s number of servers and country locations has increased since our last review, while its performance has remained solidly the same. That’s great news since Mullvad was already one of the standouts. The company now covers 38 different countries (35 over OpenVPN), with a staggering 780 servers. That is a massive increase considering Mullvad only had 304 last time we looked. 

Mullvad’s change is largely thanks to its decision to start renting servers (actual boxes, not virtual servers) instead of owning every single piece of equipment that runs its VPN. Mullvad explains in clear terms on its help pages what the differences are between rented and owned servers. You can see which servers are owned by Mullvad and which are rented on its Servers page.

For this round of testing we tested both OpenVPN and WireGuard performance to see if there was any difference on Windows. OpenVPN performed better than WireGuard in our testing, which takes the average performance of connections to five different countries over three days of testing with multiple runs.

Using OpenVPN, Mullvad retained close to 39 percent of the base speed. That’s not quite as strong as we saw last time, but is still good enough to put Mullvad in the top 10 for speed, though just barely. Mullvad using WireGuard was a little slower around 35 percent of the base speed. 

Speeds were particularly strong in Germany and the UK, coming incredibly close to the base speeds, often within 10-15Mb/s over OpenVPN. WireGuard had similar results, although they were less consistent than OpenVPN’s.

The bottom line is that, overall, you should be happy with the speeds from Mullvad, with the usual caveat that your experience may vary depending on your location in the world, equipment, and ISP.

Privacy, anonymity, and trust

mullvadlocationlist 2021 IDG

Mullvad’s location listings at the server level.

Mullvad’s privacy policy is exactly what you’re looking for in a VPN. Though it has now been split into two different documents: the general privacy policy and the “no-logging of user activity policy.” In those two documents the company says it does not “store any activity logs or metadata.” There’s no logging of your online traffic, DNS requests, connections, timestamps, IP addresses, bandwidth, nothing. The server logs are sent to /dev/null, a nonexistent directory on Linux machines. In other words, the logs are automatically sent into the ether.

The only data Mullvad saves are the total number of current connections of all users on its network, the CPU load per core on its servers, and the total bandwidth used per server. It also logs the real-time number of connections per account as the service allows five simultaneous for each account.

The company also takes the time to explain how much privacy you should expect from Mullvad based on the VPN protocol you use, and the payment type you use.

If you mail cash, for example, Mullvad says it will take the cash, add credits to the account number included in the envelope, and then shred the envelope and the note. If you choose to use credit cards or PayPal, however, you will be identifiable through those payment services.

Mullvad accepts cash, cryptocurrencies, credit cards, bank wires, Swish (a Swedish mobile payment service), and PayPal.

As for the Mullvad website servers, all logs are stored for up to 5 minutes. Mullvad’s website cookies also expire pretty quickly. You can read about that in more detail on the company’s cookie policy page.

Mullvad is owned by Amagicom AB and based in Sweden. The company CEO is Jan Jonsson, and the co-founders are Fredrik Strömberg and Daniel Berntsson.

Conclusion

It’s good to see Mullvad adding new features that enhance privacy and security, and this expansion of its network means it’s easy to get a solid connection without too many maxed out servers. With its continuing commitment to privacy and anonymity (at least as close as you can realistically get online) as well as performance, Mullvad remains one of our top recommendations.

Editor’s note: Because online services are often iterative, gaining new features and performance improvements over time, this review is subject to change in order to accurately reflect the current state of the service. Any changes to text or our final review verdict will be noted at the top of this article.

Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.

  • Sweden-based Mullvad is like the Swiss Bank account of VPNs. Instead of attaching your account to an email address, the company auto-generates an account number for you, which is all that’s required to log in. Mullvad offers a user-friendly interface, its speeds are good, it supports ad blocking, its server network is expanding, and the company takes privacy very seriously.

    Pros

    • Good speeds
    • Higher level of anonymity possible than with most VPN services
    • Windows desktop is easy to use

    Cons

    • Not guaranteed to work with Netflix
    • Lacks the extra services that some VPNs offer
    • No password protection for your account

Ian is an independent writer based in Israel who has never met a tech subject he didn’t like. He primarily covers Windows, PC and gaming hardware, video and music streaming services, social networks, and browsers. When he’s not covering the news he’s working on how-to tips for PC users, or tuning his eGPU setup.

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Leaked Alder Lake prices strike at Ryzen’s CPU dominance

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Leaked Alder Lake prices strike at Ryzen’s CPU dominance

Here’s what leaked retailer pricing tells us about the performance of Intel’s upcoming Alder Lake S CPUs.

6core vs 8core cpus

Intel / AMD / janniwet / Shutterstock

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Intel’s 12th-gen Alder Lake processors aren’t upon us yet, but another price leak indicates they might indeed compete with AMD’s best CPUs, unlike current top-end Core offerings.

The latest oopsie comes from retail IT vendor Provantage, which puts the top-end Core i9-12900K at $605. The IT vendor also lists the Core i7-12700K at $420, as well as a Core i5-12600K for $283.

After news reports of the part numbers and prices surfaced, Provantage removed the listings. The latest leak follows reports two weeks ago—supposedly from European retailers—that placed the Core i9-12900K at $705, the Core i7-12700K at $495, and the Core i5-12600 at $343.

Before you jump to any conclusions, we want to point out that as reliable as a leaked retail price might seem, they can very unreliable too. Often times stores prep for impending launches by using placeholder prices and specs. Those listings are then updated when the stores receive the final information.

The leaked info itself from Provantage would indicate it’s not quite baked yet. For example, we know the top-end Alder Lake S chip will feature 8 performance cores and 8 efficient cores (Intel’s Alder Lake chips feature a radical new mixture of big and little cores), yet the listing at Provantage lists the top-end chip as an 8-core design. 

alder lake provantage Provantage via Hothardware.com

Hothardware.com snapped this image of Intel’s 12th gen Alder Lake CPUs at retailer Provantage. that has since been removed.

Still, both combined retail leaks reinforce what we’ve already come to conclude so far: Intel’s 12th-gen Alder Lake S will at least suit up with the intent to take on AMD’s 16-core Ryzen 9 5950X.

That’s a marked change from the $550 8-core 11th gen Rocket Lake CPU, which lost badly to AMD’s $550 12-core Ryzen 9 5900X chip. With the 11th-gen desktop chips, Intel didn’t even try to field a CPU against AMD’s $750 Ryzen 9 5950X.

With its increased core efficiency, newer manufacturing process, and physically more cores than previous Intel consumer desktop CPUs, it’s entirely possible Intel’s 12th Core i9 will actually end up being somewhere between $604 and $705 when it comes out.

intel alder lake performance core benchmark Intel

Intel is touting a marked increase in core efficiency with its 12th gen Alder Lake CPUs.

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One of founding fathers of hardcore tech reporting, Gordon has been covering PCs and components since 1998.

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The best Windows backup software

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The best Windows backup software

Updated

The best programs for keeping your data and Windows safely backed up.

Rob Schultz/IDG

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Table of Contents

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We need backup software for our PCs because our storage drives won’t last forever. Backup software ensures we’re covered when the day comes that our primary drive up and dies.

It would be nice if Microsoft itself provided Windows users with something like Apple’s Time Machine: an effective, set-it-and-forget-it, total system recovery and backup solution that requires little interaction or thought on the user’s part. 

Instead, Microsoft delivers a mishmash of restore points, recovery discs, file backup, and even the un-retired System Backup (Windows 7), which was probably originally put out to pasture for its propensity to choke on dissimilar hardware. Online backup services are another option, but desktop clients tend to offer far more flexibility. 

Plenty of vendors have stepped in with worthy alternatives, and while none are quite as slick or transparent as Time Machine, some come darn close—and many are free. Read on for our top picks. 

Updated on 9/15/21 to include our review of the newest version of Aomei Backupper 6. It remains our favorite free backup software for Windows because it provides a near-total backup solution, with a generous number of features. As a paid program, however, there are better options. Read more about it below. And scroll to the bottom of this article to see links to all our backup software reviews.

Best overall backup software

There’s a reason True Image is renowned in the world of backup software. It’s capable, flexible, and rock-solid reliable. Indeed, it’s easily the most comprehensive data safety package on the planet.

Besides offering unparalleled backup functionality that’s both robust and easy to navigate, True Image integrates security apps as well, which protect against malware, malicious websites, and other threats using real-time monitoring. Read our full review.

Best free backup software

Among the free programs we tested, Backupper Standard wins primarily because it has the most features, including imaging, file backup, disk cloning, and plain file syncing, plus multiple scheduling options (see our full review). This was the case with Backupper 4, and the latest version has only added more options, making it a surprisingly well-rounded free offering. We hit a few performance snags with less-conventional system setups, but for the average user, it should perform as expected.

What to look for in backup software

As with most things—don’t over-buy. Features you don’t need add complexity and may slow down your system. Additionally, if you intend to back up to a newly purchased external hard drive, check out the software that ships with it. Seagate, WD, and others provide backup utilities that are adequate for the average user.

File backup: If you want to back up only your data (operating systems and programs can be reinstalled, though it’s mildly time- and effort-consuming), a program that backs up just the files you select is a major time-saver. Some programs automatically select the appropriate files if you use the Windows library folders (Documents, Photos, Videos, etc.).

Image backup/Imaging: Images are byte-for-byte snapshots of your entire hard drive (normally without the empty sectors) or partition, and can be used to restore both the operating system and data. Imaging is the most convenient to restore in case of a system crash, and also ensures you don’t miss anything important.

Boot media:  Should your system crash completely, you need an alternate way to boot and run the recovery software. Any backup program should be able to create a bootable optical disc or USB thumb drive. Some will also create a restore partition on your hard drive, which can be used instead if the hard drive is still operational.

Scheduling: If you’re going to back up effectively, you need to do it on a regular basis. Any backup program worth its salt allows you to schedule backups.

Versioning: If you’re overwriting previous files, that’s not backup, it’s one-way syncing or mirroring. Any backup program you use should allow you to retain several previous backups, or with file backup, previous versions of the file. The better software will retain and cull older backups according to criteria you establish.

Optical support: Every backup program supports hard drives, but as obsolescent as they may seem, DVDs and Blu-Ray discs are great archive media. If you’re worried about optical media’s reliability, M-Disc claims its discs are reliable for a thousand years, claims that are backed up by Department of Defense testing.

Online support: An offsite copy of your data is a hedge against physical disasters such as flood, fire, and power surges. Online storage services are a great way to maintain an offsite copy of your data. Backup to Dropbox and the like is a nice feature to have.

FTP and SMB/AFP: Backing up to other computers or NAS boxes on your network or in remote locations (say, your parent’s house) is another way of physically safeguarding your data with an offsite, or at least physically discrete copy. FTP can be used for offsite, while SMB (Windows and most OS’s) and AFP (Apple) are good for other PCs or NAS on your local network.

Real time: Real-time backup means that files are backed up whenever they change, usually upon creation or save. It’s also called mirroring and is handy for keeping an immediately available copy of rapidly changing data sets. For less volatile data sets, the payoff doesn’t compensate for the drain on system resources. Instead, scheduling should be used.

Continuous backup: In this case, ‘continuous’ simply means backing up on a tight schedule, generally every 5 to 15 minutes, instead of every day or weekly. Use continuous backup for rapidly changing data sets where transfer rates are too slow, or computing power is too precious for real-time backup.

Performance: Most backups proceed in the background or during dead time, so performance isn’t a huge issue in the consumer space. However, if you’re backing up multiple machines or to multiple destinations, or dealing with very large data sets, speed is a consideration.

How we test

We run each program through the various types of backups it’s capable of. This is largely to test reliability and hardware compatibility, but we time two: an approximately 115GB system image (two partitions), and a roughly 50GB image created from a set of smaller files and folders. We then mount the images and test their integrity via the program’s restore functions. We also test the USB boot drives created by the programs.

All of our reviews

If you’d like to learn more about our top picks as well as other options, you can find links below to all of our backup software reviews. We’ll keep evaluating new programs and re-evaluating existing software on a regular basis, so be sure to check back for our current impressions.

Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.

Jon is a Juilliard-trained musician, former x86/6800 programmer, and long-time (late 70s) computer enthusiast living in the San Francisco bay area. [email protected]

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Razer just made gamer thimbles

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Razer just made gamer thimbles

Or maybe they’re yoga pants for your thumbs?

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Razer has never been afraid to take a shot on products that seem unusual at first glance. Witness its RGB-infused N95 mask, the now-defunct Razer Game Store with its own zVault currency, or the first-gen Firefly mousepad, which has evolved into something special but originally prompted us to review it against a ripped-up piece of cardboard. The company’s latest offering might just take the cake though. This week, Razer introduced gamer thimbles.

Yes, thimbles. You know, like the Monopoly piece (or the sewing accessory for more worldly folks out there). Seriously.

Well, not quite. If you simply can’t abide sweaty palms and greasy fingerprints interfering with your marathon mobile Fortnite sessions, the new Razer gaming finger sleeve may be up your alley. “Slip on and never slip up with Razer Gaming Finger Sleeve that will seal your mobile victory,” Razer’s site breathlessly boasts.  “Woven with high-sensitivity silver fiber for enhanced aim and control, our breathable sleeves keep your fingers deadly cool in the heat of battle, so you’ll always have a grip on the game.”

Razer says the 0.8mm-thick sleeves are sweat absorbent, and that they’re made from nylon and spandex. So maybe they’re more like gamer yoga pants? But you know, for your fingers?

Either way it’s ludicrous. And unlike most of Razer’s gear, the gamer thimbles understandably (yet sadly) lack RGB lighting. But if you want to wear your dedication to the Cult of Razer on your slee…thumb, or maybe just look snazzier when you’re passing Go and collecting $200, you can pick up a pair of Razer gaming finger sleeves on the company’s website for $10. The truly dedicated can double down to look especially gamer:

razer gamer thimbles 2 Razer

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